No end yet to rail misery

ASLEF members defy their Union

Southern Rail has said it is “saddened and disappointed” that the members of the Aslef union have rejected the agreement put together between Southern and the Aslef management to resolve their dispute. But can either of the parties be surprised the proposal was rejected? Anyone with any understanding of the issues would not be surprised.

The management of Aslef seem to have interposed themselves in a dispute where, admittedly, their members (the train drivers) have a significant interest but were not the only interested parties. The other interested parties are the members of the RMT (the guards/ conductors/ on-board supervisors (“OBSs”) whichever you may wish to call them). But whatever you call them, they are not the button-pushers that seem to be the ones trying to force a settlement blind to the real issue.

The real issue is not who pushes the button to close the train doors – it is who deals with safety on the train whilst the train driver is running the train and when the train driver is waiting to push the button to close the doors. That includes dealing with accidents (fortunately not that frequent but still a concern to mitigate against) and, very frequently, assisting passengers with additional needs. It was part of the Southern/ Aslef agreement that OBSs would be rostered on all trains but (to emphasise their perceived irrelevance) if one wasn’t available for a particular train, the train would run anyway. But what is the OBS’s role towards disabled passengers (let’s forget here the general security role) ? The Southern/ Aslef management solution to that issue was to give these passengers an option of a later train or (theoretically) a taxi. Is anyone surprised that the members of two trade unions, each with an everyday understanding of the responsibility of running a railway with real passengers, said no?

The downside of this debacle is that we are back where we started. As we have said over many months now – the only way to resolve this is for the government to intervene and for Southern to recruit more OBSs so that trains always run with a security-trained member of staff.

Meanwhile, the RMT has announced another strike day – Wednesday 22 February 22. Yes, it really is déjà vu all over again, yet again.

Photos: library images


  1. Has this really been written by the Chairman of a passenger action group? It reads as if it has been penned by a spin doctor employed by the unions. The issue is not about safety at all (anybody who has bothered to follow the story in the media will know that driver-operated trains are common on other routes and that the safety watchdog has no problem with them).
    The issue is about who runs the railway and, as a sad result of the spineless conduct of the management of Southern Rail, the answer seems to be ‘the unions’. Deja vu indeed – try the 1970s.
    [one sentence deleted]
    I do agree however that Government action is required: to ban all strikes in essential public services.

    EDITORIAL NOTE: This comment has been edited to meet Rye News guidelines for comments.

  2. The safety watchdog has expressed concerns about safety. There are improvements to be made. We are talking about upwards of 1000 passengers in some cases being aboard a train with the possibility of only one member of staff in the front. Never mind a serious emergency, try a passenger being taken ill or having a seizure, an abusive or drunk passenger attacking other passengers, a disabled passenger requiring assistance, the driver himself becoming incapacitated, perhaps late at night in the middle of nowhere – the list is endless.

    The real question, I would suggest, is what is a safe minimum number of qualified staff to safeguard the interests of passengers at all times. It may be rather more than one. In fact it could be more than two……


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